Like Bob Somerby, I look back at what the press did to Al Gore and marvel at how shameless their campaign against him was. When Al Gore says, accurately, that in Congress he was the one who “took the initiative in creating the Internet,” the press reduces it to “Al Gore claims he invented the Internet.” Al Gore spent much of his childhood living in a modest D.C. residence hotel which has now, decades later, been remodeled into a luxury hotel–this becomes “Al Gore grew up in a fancy hotel.” Al Gore spent two years as an Army journalist and five years as a reporter at the Nashville Tennessean, which he routinely describes as “seven years” he spent as a journalist. This becomes, “Al Gore exaggerates his resume.”
On his site, The Daily Howler, Somerby has exposed in detail how the key myths about Al Gore originated at Republican National Committee headquarters with press releases, which got dutifully typed up by compliant and lazy reporters, and then became fact in the mind of many Americans. You can’t trust Al Gore became considered simply common knowledge by many Americans, even though the mythical “lies” the man told weren’t lies at all. Meanwhile, the Bush campaign told substantive and even vicious lies with impunity.
There was a thread recently on Blogcritics that explored why conservatives aren’t very well-represented in the creative arts, a field dominated by liberals. However, one thing the RNC is extremely good at is the kind of storytelling that works best in the national media. The RNC realizes that writing a presidential campaign is much like writing a screenplay for a Hollywood movie. The approach must be very simple: You need a hero with both an admirable quality and a flaw, an antagonist with a deep flaw and one good quality, and a story that is rigged to present these qualities in the best way for your hero.
The RNC wrote a brilliant script for Bush. Here’s the setup:
GEORGE W. BUSH: A plain-spoken straight shooter, has a little trouble articulating his ideas, but that’s just because he’s not a slick politician.
AL GORE: A pathological liar who succeeds only because he is smart and devious.
The story: The pathological liar constantly tries to make the straight-shooter look bad, but the liar is always undone by his own slickness, because the American people are smart enough to tell the liar from the straight-shooter.
It was a fine script, almost ingenious in its perversity. Bush, who really is a habitual liar, plays the straight shooter. Bush’s inability to explain his ideas becomes an asset–it’s because he’s not slick, not because the ideas are wrong-headed. Al Gore can’t open his mouth without being doubted. Bush won the debates before they even happened. Because he was the straight-shooter going up against the Master of Deception, it was enough just for him to stand there and not look like he was lying (even when he was). Anything Al Gore did would be perceived as a devious “tactic”–even sincerity would be considered a ruse. And, most perversely, the story treats the American people as if they’re stupid–but it depends on flattering them that they’re smart enough to see through Al Gore.
Brilliant. And useful. I’m writing a horror script right now. In it there is a scene where, for reasons too complicated to explain, a female character eats a live hamster. And here’s the thing–I have to to make this character remain sympathetic after the hamster-eating scene. It’s a tough trick. Hannibal Lector only killed and ate people, as far as I remember, and mainly chose to kill people we didn’t like anyway. Hamsters are a whole different matter. Everyone likes hamsters.
The RNC faced a similar problem with Bush. How do make a woefully inexperienced, prone-to-deceit, probably heartless child of privilege a sympathetic protagonist? Answer: Just write the script in a way that paints a mirror image–project Bush’s worst qualities on his opponent, and make them even worse. Mario Puzo managed this trick with Vito Corleone: Sure, we say, Vito ain’t the nicest guy in town, but, hey, look at the other guys.
The press, knowing a good movie when it is handed to them, just wrote it up, and it became the story of the campaign. And it almost worked–George W. Bush nearly won the election.
As the man said, an intelligent Martian would look down on this and be very amused.
But perhaps the ridiculous notion that George W. Bush is a plain-spoken man of the people is nearing the end of its undeserved existence. The press always likes new stories, and there is a story waiting to be told that has the virtue of being true: The story of a cynical, deceitful President who has manipulated an emotionally vulnerable nation, for which he has contempt, into supporting a radical agenda that serves the interests of a very few at the expense of many.
Today, in an excellent Howler, Somerby points to evidence of a possible shift in the narrative. It’s a bit early to tell, but perhaps the this Administration’s “Culture of Lying,” as Somerby calls it, will become the major focus of the national press that it should be. This Howler is well worth reading.Powered by Sidelines